FANCY

So I’m standing here in my undies, my saggy 52 year old body
inwardly cringing under their scrutiny. Photos are taken, front and side like mug shots. Now walk. Due to embarrassment, I have to stop myself from sashaying down the path runway style. By their intakes of breath and furrowed brows it seems I’ve been standing and walking wrong all these years. I’m a guinea pig for a rolfing class.
I moved here from Santa Fe, The Land of Enchantment and body workers. I’ve had A LOT of body work. Years ago a friend rolled her van with a un-seat-belted me in it and I’ve since suffered from lower back pain and spasms. I’ve always avoided rolfing. In my mind rolfing = pain. Actually,so does yoga. I delight in the gasps of horror from the Ubud holier-than-thou-cuddle-puddle-yoga-nazis when I say “yoga hurts my body”.
Over the years I’ve tried Reiki, Cranial Sacral and Ortho-Bionomy (can you feel me internally manipulating your kidneys?).I’ve been acupunctured, osteopathed and chiropractored. I hate chiropractors, okay that’s excessive, I strongly dislike being grabbed by the feet and flipped like a blanket by a blind native American who obviously can’t see my poor twisted body, and worse hasn’t asked a question or even laid hands on me. Another guy cracked my back so hard I screamed and fell off the table. I’m lying on the floor grimacing and he says “I think we got it!”
It wasn’t until I moved here and experienced Myofascial Release that I finally experienced lasting pain relief. Which is, essentially rolfing and how I came to find myself, being taught, unbelievably, how to stand and walk. It’s exhausting I tell you, concentrating on not throwing my shoulders back like a sergeant major and not scrunching but splaying my toes. I slump like an ape with gecko feet but apparently that’s good, I bloom under Gillian’s smile when I do it right.
Being scrutinized like this reminded me of something exceedingly weird that was perpetrated upon my body by yet another body worker in New Mexico.
I never should have answered that call. When she spoke the words “Alexa you’re my last hope” I should have hung up right then. Those were my thoughts as I lay back under a crocheted blanky, my feet nestled in oven-glove-covered stirrups and my vagina akimbo.
My friend was studying acupuncture at the Chinese School of Medicine and it appeared they were in a bit of a quandary. The course requirements were gruelling, they had to learn anatomy and physiology and all the Chinese herbs. Now came the fun bit, a break from the drudgery in the form of a gynaecological exam. The class needed some poor sucker and, as yet, no one had agreed to a class of 12 men and women peering avidly up their twat.
These days I’d just laugh and say “piss off” but back then I had a hard time saying NO. No I don’t want to go to that crappy Andrew Lloyd Webber musical or a 5 mile jog or snowshoe up a never ending hill. Thanks so much for asking.
She wheedled and begged, I hummed and hawed. “I wouldn’t ask but we’re desperate”. “Tell me you’re joking?” I groaned. I knew she wasn’t. Then she bribed me, and I succumbed.
When Cynthia Knudson ushered me in I felt all ‘aww’ she was just so homey, so ‘little house on the prairie’ in her Laura Ashley pinafore dress and Mary Jane shoes. I felt comfy. Strange I know, but being in such an intimate situation made everyone just so damn chatty. You can picture it can’t you? I’m lying under a blanket with 12 people clustered between my legs fixated on my cooch. Of course their going to chat.
I detected a mischievous edge in the good doctor, a smidgeon of frivolity when she started telling tales out of school. Funny stories, naughty doctor stories and the one that sticks out involves an obese man who came to her, head hung low, explaining that there was a really bad smell coming from somewhere ‘down there’ that he couldn’t locate. She put him at ease, got him undressed and prone then started methodically lifting the folds of flesh from top to bottom only to find… She paused, a glint in her eye and perfect comic timing… an old tuna sandwich!
We all guffawed. Then a student tells us about his friend who went to visit her daughter in New York and got some nasty discharge thingy while she was there. Her daughter made an appointment for her and the next day she did what all women do before a gyno, she had a shower.
The doctor entered the room all brisk and bubbly and she told him what the problem was. He ducked under the sheet for a look and popped up a moment later, an odd smirk on his face and said “FANCY!” Totally perplexed by this as there was nothing more said, she lay pondering while he finished the exam. When she got home she said to her daughter “he’s a strange one”. “Why mum?” so she told her about the ‘fancy’ comment. “Why, what did you do?” “I didn’t do anything unusual, I had a shower, oh and I used some of your douche.” “What are you talking about, I don’t have any douche?” “You know, that little pink spray bottle on the counter?” her daughter replied “Oh God mum that was glitter spray!”

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HARD WORK

HARD WORK

Wordless
in a year of worthless work
and unholy water
pitched from a sack-grey sky (pissing down in fact)
and growing ever colder
as the days pour by
dribbling down to stale night black…
a dank, back-breaking, dim and crippling way
to lay me down to die;
and why?

As the moon, sweet moon somewhere, wild
rides high
hides in shame her roving eye
and still
I cannot cry.

Steeped in this chill,
I have sniffled, coughed
and caught malaise; lain sleepless, ill.
Sat stuffed as an armchair
and talked of meals and movies
played cards, charades, and played the fool.
Liverish and lost, I have made my way
through hard snarls of cars
watched the ranks of morning children
paced and tight-laced, slate grey and uniform cool
passing the brick and stone
of harder schools, there to learn the city. Pity.
Ventured forth to shops, waited queues my turn
bought coal in wet sacks
lugged it back, built yet another fire
and dwindling, let it burn.
Refurbished, rewired,
realized and retired;
to strive, to make do and mend again.

Despaired and uninspired
made love
and made amends.
Talked an endless evening on a phone
to anywhere
too often, too alone.
Watched and wondered, spooned porridge and worried
waited, and played safe
tested wills with wily city-folk
bankers, busy men, barristers…
filed myself in their accounts
made and paid unsensible amounts
sat and reckoned final price
and groaned.
Laboured with the working tribes
traded jibes and all-sorts
and moaned
over more and boring weather reports.

And so have lost intent and bartered all the dream
to any purpose become unused
and with some ungainly shuffling, it seems
have kept everyone sometime amused.
With consummate endeavour and small skill
have squandered, wasted, wandered…
and dug myself a grave that grafting cannot fill.

And I am yet lost
suspended, as ever on a sea
a brittle, bobbing cockle-shell of hope
bailing as the wind builds, stings my eye…
a slow, slow paying out of rope
and still I cannot cry.

In this land of cream teas and moss,
green trees and great spaces between words,
I have sought only the sun,
warm faces,
and places unsullied by anyone.
There are none.
And so between the kept castle-cottages
and swatches of tended green,
pretentious lanes and houses with names
council towers, scaffolds and squats,
streets of gutted flats,
abutted tight by money, men, and their plots.
From privilege on platters and pensioners’ pilchards
to impoverished have-nots.
In short, the lot.

And so
wrung dry
I do not wish to try;
to find a liquid solace in this eye
nor could not
should not
would not, will not
ever need to cry.

TRACIE’S LAST NIGHT

TRACIE’S LAST NIGHT

Tracie sandwiched between me and Tina for the 36th Goodbye

I’ve always envied people who knew with absolute certainty what they wanted to do with their lives. It just seems unfair that the rest of us have to bumble our way through life in the hope that the intangible ‘right thing’ will magically cross our path.  Will we know it when it does?  All those future vets and accordion players scurrying around with such purpose just pissed me off.

I bring it up because I have a theory about this which became fully realized the other night.

It was Tracie’s 39th last night in Bali before heading back to Australia. We joke about this because of the number of goodbye parties we’ve attended over the past few weeks. One of which Tracie herself missed because she was having her appendix removed at a hospital in Denpasar.

I joked later that we should have a going away party for her appendix.

For her final hurrah a few of us chose to consume a mushroom shake and the evening that followed became this story. It kind of wrote itself in my mind while I was actually living it. Bizarre situations unfolded, jewels fell from our tongues and many times I longed for a piece of paper. It was impossible to predict the ending until Tracie finally called it a night.

Long ago I stopped doing shrooms in a recreational way, far preferring to head off alone into the wilds of New Mexico to commune with the divine.   I’d travel light.  Just the necessaries which included water to choke them down, cigarettes of course, and a little notepad and pen attached to a piece of string tied to my wrist because I’d invariably end up naked. I’d be running around talking to myself and having these ‘AHA’ moments that I sure as shit wouldn’t remember unless I wrote them down.

Indonesia is a Muslim country that enforces the death penalty for drug use. Just a joint can land you in Kerobokan jail for years. Therefore it seems strange to me that mushrooms are totally legal here and people can openly go all tiddlypom in public.  Moonshine is also legal because the taxes on alcohol are prohibitive. I like red wine but it costs around $14 for a bottle of something almost undrinkable that makes you wince with your first sip. Hatten red is best served icy cold – actually it’s best not served at all.  I digress.  I do that.

By the time we made it to Napi Orti,  a few had dropped by the wayside and the weird were definitely turning pro. The bar was packed, it looked like something out of a Bosch painting – Heaven and Hell inhabited by the usual Ubud miscreants wailing along to ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.  The band, Abu and Friends, are wonderful musicians who thankfully don’t play ‘No Woman, No Bloody Cry’  substituting English noises for the lyrics. What they do instead are great covers of Violent Femmes, Stevie Ray and even Nancy Sinatra. I can forgive them for ‘Down Under’ because of their amazing version of Pink Floyds ‘Brick in the Wall’ which morphs into ‘Riders on the Storm’ with a smattering of the Hindi ditty ‘Jaya Jaya’ and a Kacek monkey chant.

I joined my friend Jo at the bar just in time to eavesdrop on the best chat up line I think I’ve ever heard. Two very cute young Bali boys were taking turns trying to win her charms and were completely undeterred when she told them she was old enough to be their grandmother.  “No matter” said Thing 2 waving his hand dismissively.   “By the way, my friend here has the most remarkable  genitalia!”  When she’d recovered her composure enough to speak she inquired “and you?”  “Mine?” he scoffed, “Oh it pales into insignificance!”

CP’s Lounge is the only real club in town but that night the fug of smoke inside was too much for even us inveterate smokers. We left for a while and strolled down the narrow footpath heading for the football field. Shyam and I flopped down on to the grass the way you do.  Zeddy didn’t. He was wearing smart white pants, a gorgeously colorful silk Paul Ropp shirt and curly toed Indian slippers. He’d accessorized with a white turban adorned with a jeweled brooch. Turban bling.

I have to take a moment here to describe Zaheer.  Born in Africa to Indian  parents and raised in England he’s a gentleman and the epitome of dapper. Not to mention a kick ass dancer and inspired Indian cook. We want to launch a menswear line called, ZEDDYWEAR. This would entail installing a Zeddycam on his head so we can record him rummaging through his wardrobe of caftans and zoot suits to choose the appropriate attire for the occasion.  The logo would read ‘WHAT WOULD ZEDDY WEAR?’

I digress again, but this is a story of digressions.  So Zeddy’s acting out a funny story from his younger, stoner years about being at a party and watching a fucked up friend stumble repeatedly across the room having tripped over… a cigarette paper?  We were staggering around laughing at him when a couple on a scooter came racing down the footpath. “Oh this should be fun” Shyam chortled rubbing his hands together with glee.  It’s a dead end and there is absolutely no way to turn around on this path. The woman jumped off the speeding scooter, as only the truly drunk can do, and he performed this incredible Evel Knievel move involving a pivot. Suddenly they were facing the right way!

We applauded and sweetly suggested that maybe she should drive them home (he was slurring and she seemed agile).  They told us not to worry they’d been doing this for years and with a parting whoop he hurtled off with my husbands’ man purse hooked over his foot. I jumped up shouting “STOP!”  I tried to run after them only to discover that I was completely tangled up in kite string.  Mr. Z retrieved my purse and we watched as panic stricken people leaped off the path to avoid certain death.  “Hati hati” I called as I tried to unravel the kite string from between my toes.

Before we allowed Zeddy to go home, we made him pose for a photo, spread- eagled against the mural outside the Center for Mentally Disabled People. In my tripped out state I thought the painting depicted a white eagle with a jewel on its forehead, wings spread wide, ready for flight. In actual fact it’s a demented looking bat.  With his jeweled turban and the words ‘Mentally Disabled People’ showing it was kind of perfect.

The mentally challenged bat.

Back in CP’s the mood was festive, Tracie was growling ‘Wild Thing’ into the mike and poor Blackie the dog, was standing by the heavy glass doors going “Ppffffff”.  Unable to breathe, his pleading look told me he was desperate to escape the smoke. I let him out, then Shyam and I had a dance until his legs stubbornly refused to cooperate.

At the bar, a guy who works in the hospitality industry was having a rant about his day of trying to please the unpleasant. There was an element of ‘Toy Story Barbie’ to his tale of smiling till his face hurt. I pictured him waving bye bye and left him snarling to settle my bill from the previous night.

When the band started playing ‘Country Roads’ both Shyam and I looked up in disgust just in time to see our friend Olaf crooning with intent. He was actually singing those awful lyrics to Tracie, gazing into her eyes while they slow danced. I think that was the last time I saw him smile that evening. We said goodbye to them countless times. His face repeatedly rose, then fell again as Tracie came back in for the umpteenth time to say a final farewell to someone or other. Eventually the door closed behind them.

Then it opened again and Tracie ran up to me saying “Did I ever tell you about Jose?”  Olaf hovered hopefully near the door while she told me the story of the best oral sex she’d ever had. It was performed by Jose and nothing had compared to it until she began her love affair with the mandi spray in her bathroom. Third world countries are not known for their sex toys or water pressure and most toilets have a spray hose mounted on the wall by the loo instead of toilet paper. She’d been having a high old time with hers and had named it Jose.  Get it? Jose the hose?  Anyway she’d gone travelling for a week and while she was gone her landlord thought he’d surprise her with a bathroom renovation…. Imagine her horror upon discovering her lovely new Western style bathroom minus Jose. Right there in the club she dropped to her knees shaking her fists at the ceiling and howling   “JOSE!”  “ WHY?” “HOW COULD YOU LEAVE ME?”

Outside again sometime later, Shyam was telling me about why he’d dropped out of University. I had to confess that I thought his reasons were valid. I’d intended to be parental, but I understood completely how applied mathematics might not be useful in later life for someone who’s rather unsure what path their life will follow. I am also that person. Trying to be helpful I asked what made him truly happy.  “I’m a generally happy person” he said. “Yes, so am I, but what’s the one thing that makes you ecstatic when you’re doing it?” We ascertained that he hadn’t yet found the ‘thing’ but that when he did he’d see me in his head shouting  “THAT!”  “THAT’S THE THING!”

So we come, in a very roundabout way, to my theory which is: We are put on this earth to be happy and thrive.  If we take the leap of faith necessary to follow our bliss, somehow the Universe will support us in the choice we’ve made.

I’ve seen it happen with many of my friends and I’ve admired their bravery when they’ve said “I’m just going to  paint/write/skateboard  and hope that I can somehow make enough money doing it!”  When I said those words to Shyam I knew right then that I’d found my ‘thing’ because I couldn’t wait to get home and start writing about it.  Should I call it ‘Tracie’s Last Night’ or ‘The Bathroom Renovation Ruined my Sex Life’ or ‘Tangled Up in Kite String’ or   ‘The Big AHA!’  The possibilities were endless, I could fill a page with titles.

This week I got my first rejection letter and even that made me happy. My tummy all aflutter,  I’d submitted a story to The Bali Advertiser and was informed that they weren’t looking for articles like that at the moment BUT should I write something serious….

As I hose myself down because I forgot to buy toilet paper, I hear Tracie in my mind howling  “JOSEEE!”  and I know what I have to call this story.

SIMBA IN MY COFFEE

The Naughty Children.

SIMBA IN MY COFFEE

My mum died recently after many years of living, if you can call it that, with Alzheimer’s.  ALZHEIMER’S  Just the word strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest men.  So for the sake of this story let’s just call it AL.  Less of a mouthful, user friendly AL.

AL’s a sneaky bastard.  No one, as far as I’m aware, looks into their future and says to themselves “When I get old I’m going to lose my mind!”

The only benefit I could see was that she no longer worried about bills and such.   Council Tax?  Shmouncil Tax!   Congestion Charge?  She farted in its general direction!

To be honest I was pleased for her, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.       Not even Margaret Thatcher.

As for myself, I wanted to grieve properly because mourning the loss of someone while they’re still alive is not something I would recommend and no one can teach you how to do it.  I set about planning a truly wonderful celebration of her life, making the arrangements long distance from Bali.

Upon our arrival in England my husband and I spent two lovely nights with friends and then schlepped our stuff over to Childs Hill, an area in London that Kenny had previously remarked smells like poo. When I’d inquired after a nice, cheap place to stay this one had been favorably recommended.

Evelyn’s B & B.   Insert the opening bars of Bach’s D minor in fugue.

When she opened the front door I was immediately awed by her presence.  The sheer size of her.  She had a fearsome smile full of tombstone teeth, she looked like something that lives under a bridge.

She barked that she’d been waiting for us for HOURS and I was instantly cowed.  This set a precedent for the next three weeks.

The place was lovely, comfy bed, lots of flowery prints everywhere and it didn’t smell like old lady. It had the added advantage of being very close to my former hood AND we were the only guests, brilliant I thought.

It turns out that Evelyn’s B & B is the B & B that no one stays at.

While we were settling in she told us to help ourselves if we wanted to use the kitchen, she showed us how to connect to her wifi and where the key for the back door was kept as we’re both smokers.

Next morning we came down for breakfast which was held in the dining room and accompanied by Evelyn’s endless tales of her ongoing battle with the Greeks next door and her recently demised dog, Simba, who’s face peered mournfully out at you from the bottom of your cereal bowl.

AND your mug, the sugar bowl, the plates…

A regal looking ‘Lassie’ type dog.   Are they Border collies?  I don’t know I kind of dozed off during her diatribe, anyway she used to breed the bloody things.

I found I was waking up before the dawn most mornings with my brain yodeling on about everything I needed to take care of, so a couple of days into our stay I snuck downstairs to make some coffee and have a fag.   I looked everywhere for the back door key but it had gone.

Bleary eyed I stirred Nescafe instant and milk into my mug reached for the sugar bowl and took a big spoonful. Thank fuck I looked down!!  A big ol’ heaping mound of Simba, bone shards and all poised over my cup.  Dear God. The sugar bowl sat innocuously by mocking me.  Both were emblazoned with Simba.

I recovered from the shock of nearly drinking dead collie and made for the front door. I removed the chain, unlocked the two deadbolts and quietly eased the door open.  Klaxons went off, piercing sirens I screamed and closed the door to no effect.  Eeek!   Evelyn came lumbering down the stairs, hair standing on end, her mouth open in a snarl?  I couldn’t be sure, maybe she was telling me how to disarm the burglar alarm, but I went all ‘deer in headlights’ on her, petrified by her Gorgon like glare.

Over breakfast I inquired after the whereabouts of the back door key and was informed that she’d moved it because I’d left the damn thing unlocked for five minutes.  Later that day I was sitting on our bed surrounded by paperwork when she burst in the room.  “OH” I shrieked.  “OH” she boomed  “I didn’t know you were in here.”     “Well I am.”  Long awkward pause before she spied the wine glass in my trembling hand.  “YOU CAN’T USE THAT!”  She spat at me  “Those are for best!  You can’t just go taking peoples GLASSES!’  I thrust my half full wine glass at her.  “WELL DRINK IT FIRST!”  I chugged it back dutifully.

After she’d slammed out the door it struck me that this woman was a big fat bully and I, having never reacted well to being bullied, was the perfect victim.  I decided to play my role and not rock the boat because, after all, the place was nice and what else does the poor old cow have to do all day.  Okay I’ll be your bitch!  Who knows I may even get a story out of it?

The next morning I had a meeting scheduled and timidly told her that we wouldn’t be having breakfast.  This news provoked a  “OH YOU ARE A NAUGHTY GIRL!  I’VE ALREADY LAID IT OUT!’  It was all I could do not to suck my thumb.

I raced upstairs and fell on the bed giggling madly as I told Kenny. We bounced on the mattress like naughty children do, then we obediently went downstairs for breakfast.   Afterwards we were dangling out of the bedroom window sneaking a ciggie, when she came bounding out the front door – almost gazelle like for a woman of her size – and the lidless ‘Eye of Sauron’ swiveled upwards.  We were busted.  Even Kenny was scared.

It was around this time that we were somehow unable to get online. Ever again.  She cut off our wifi?  Of course she wouldn’t fess up and the box still winked merrily at us from the sideboard but aside from using SIMBA as a password we were at a loss.

On the day that I was due to meet the humanist presiding over my mothers service (Stella was an atheist so there could be no G word).    I asked Evelyn if I could kindly use her sitting room at 4 o’clock that day to meet with Christine because the bedroom didn’t seem quite appropriate.  “Of course”  she said.

When the doorbell rang promptly at 4pm I ran downstairs to let her in and discovered that I was completely LOCKED IN. Kenny had gone to a chiropractor with our keys in his pocket and Evelyn had also left locking me in!    No front OR back door keys anywhere to be found.   The humanist and I are shouting at each other through the letter box. She really needed to use the loo and trapped in this way I became semi hysterical.  WHAT IF THERE WAS A FIRE?

Christine told me to calm me down and try and find an unlocked window.  While I ran around like a hamster in a cage muttering to myself  about how she’d never leave one unlocked because then I wouldn’t  BURN TO DEATH  Christine dragged the park bench from the front garden and positioned it in the middle of the road where the only ray of sunshine broke through a sludge grey sky.

It was pretty surreal, cars edging around us as I recounted stories about Stella while she wriggled around in her seat desperate for a pee until Kenny returned and let us in.  I thought I should say something to Evelyn about this but when I dared in a ‘tippy toeing on eggshells’ way I barely got the words out of my mouth before she shot me down with a resounding  “THE KEYS ARE ON THE TABLE!”

The funeral was amazing. A strange word I know to describe a funeral but it was. All the old actors came out of the woodwork and regaled us with funny Stella stories.  I’d chosen a rather eclectic playlist for the service.  ‘Gracias a la Vida’  and  ‘Is that all there is?’  made them cry while  ‘Make ‘em Laugh’  and   ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’  had them in stitches.  I had opted not to wear black and was decked out in purple and orange, my favorite colour combo.  I put on a red clown nose when I read my speech because mum would have got a kick out of that.  As we left the chapel everybody was kicking up their heels and singing  ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’  at the top of their lungs. It was the best funeral I’ve ever been to!

It was the only funeral I’ve ever been to.   I don’t do  funerals.

A week or so later I went to pick up her ashes and there was a bit of a kerfuffle. The funeral director had instructed them to bury  the ashes! Forgive me while I turn into John Cleese here.  I mean what’s the bloody point of having someone cremated if you’re  going to bury them after???  Anyway I told them to give me her ashes  so I could scatter them in their rose gardens with my dad.  “Oh no!” “You can’t do that!” “You need to have the official blah blah with you and it costs thirty quid.”  I said  “I don’t want the official blah blah with me, this is a private thing”  and they told me I had no choice but that he was fully booked for a week.

I snatched up the box when they gave it to me and stomped out in a huff.  As I walked across the car park the rose gardens beckoned to me and I thought fuck it, I’m gonna do it anyway. I opened the box in preparation for a drive by scattering, a ten yard sprint to the rose bushes and hurl her somewhere in the general direction of my dad and leg it.Then I had a vision of some kind of yarmulke wearing Jewish SWAT team tackling me to the ground. Thankfully my more sensible side had a ‘word’ with me, mostly about this being a serious thing and the trouble I might get into for doing it.  I put her in my backpack and headed home.

For the next few days I wandered around with my mother on my back racking my brains over the right place to scatter her. Then it hit me. When my dad died we had put the remainder of his ashes in the front garden of the family home and planted a magnolia tree to mark the spot.  Perfect.

I asked Kenny what he thought the etiquette was for scattering a dead body in somebody else’s front yard?  He reminded me that the woman who’d bought the house was Chinese and who knew what customs they had or how they might feel about that.  I vowed to ring the doorbell and ask for permission if her car was in the driveway, if not I’d do it anyway. Happy with my decision I hunted through my stuff looking for a tin to put a few ashes in to bring back to Bali. The only tin I could find was my old stash tin and as I emptied it and watched the cigarette papers, razor blades and other detritus fall into the rubbish bin I glanced at Kenny who was shaking his head in disbelief and we started to giggle.   Personally I think it’s fitting, poetic even.

There was a car in the driveway and it turns out the house had been rented to a very sweet young couple.  She listened as I explained about the tree and her eyebrows raised when I said that I had my mother on my back.  Before she left me alone to do what I had to do she invited me in to see the house I’d had to sell. It was almost unrecognizable. An ultra modern house that had changed so much I couldn’t place myself in it. No more wet bar in the entrance or Welsh dresser in the kitchen. No more throwback to the 70’s avocado phone nook under the stairs or toilet entirely wallpapered with theatre programs and old friends bios. It made me feel melancholy which was also fitting for the task ahead.

I knelt under the tree that I’d begged Amina not to cut down because it made so many people happy when it was in bloom and finally said goodbye to Stella.

JALAN DUCK SPLAT

I never planned to move to Bali,   I hardly ever plan to do anything.

Things just happen and I go with the flow.   Not in a ‘oh wouldn’t it be fun to go to Vegas and get married’   kind of way,  it’s more an instinctual thing  a  lizard brain fight, fuck or flee situation Involving  giant leaps of faith and  ‘oh crumbs, what now’  moments.

At this point I could insert some crazy montage, take you on a visual journey, you could witness my  bubble actually bursting, but this isn’t that story.

We sold our house in Santa Fe, got rid of a life’s worth of stuff and relocated to Bali.   Now instead of people asking  what I do for a living,  pretty much the first question out of any Balinese mouth is  ‘Dari mana?’    ‘Where from?’  That’s understandable.  I am after all, white.  A bule which literally means albino, but now we’ve settled in the query has become ‘Di mana?’  For some reason everybody always wants to know where you are, right that instant.

The question most commonly asked by expats is ‘Why Bali?’

I have some over used responses that actually bore me while I’m speaking, I mean how many times can you have the same conversation?   BUT  if I’m really honest with myself it essentially boils down to a moment in time.

One of those instants where everything slows way down.  Time seems to stop and you know you are the only witness to a perfect moment.

We were driving through the village of  Tianyar Barat  when I saw an ancient, wizened old  lady crawl out of what looked like a chicken coop by the roadside.  Bare breasted she adjusted her sarong and stretched her broken old body to the sky.  She looked around her at the same view she’s probably seen every morning of her life and broke into the most beatific  toothless smile.

I was enchanted, something deep inside me said YES!  I want to live somewhere people can still appreciate the beauty that surrounds them even living in such dire poverty AND potter about half naked.   I remember beaming as we drove on.

Nudity is no big deal  here and I’ve become used to the sight of naked people splashing around in the ditches beside the roads or even dangling over them to have a poo.

Not long ago we were picking up trash at the joining of the two rivers, the most sacred spot in Ubud, and a man was casually having a wank while watching us loading up a rice sack, hardly the most erotic sight unless you’ve got a thing for soggy plastic.  He smiled and waved at us.  My Balinese neighbor wanders around the yard naked except for his beige pantyhose and there’s nothing pervy about it.

There are so many reasons I love this place but the main one is the wonderful surrealism of it all.

Take driving.  A normally mundane task this getting from A to B but in Indonesia, if you’re on a scooter, it’s really quite thrilling.  I liken it to skiing in that you pay close attention to what’s in front of you and ignore everything behind you.  Be sure to make no sudden moves, It’s every man for himself and audacity rules. The only time I look in my mirror is when I’m overtaking.

Unlike the rest of South East Asia where drivers lay on their horns as if their life depended on it.  Here the only time you hear a honk is when someone’s letting you know they’re passing or to politely inform you the light is changing. There is literally no road rage. Even in the worst traffic jams people are calm, they smile and then they take to the sidewalk.   This is perfectly acceptable.

A two lane road becomes a six lane highway. The inside left is the granny or ‘ibu’ lane and the outside lane is for speed racers, the rest of us pootle along in the middle.  People do use turn signals but you can’t trust them, they may signal right but then turn left and they frequently forget their lights are still blinking, what you need to look out for is a limp, penguin like flap of the wrist.

When it rains or drizzles the Balinese pull over instantly and reach for their rain ponchos, like cats they fear they will melt if moist.

The hazards are huge with potholes the size of my scooter, stray animals to swerve around, loose gravel to avoid and people driving on the wrong side – at night without headlights!

Kenny was speeding through the rice paddies recently and overtook a truck.  Just as he’d almost made it past  he spied a chicken flying straight for him, it was a tense moment while man and chicken locked eyeballs, both trying to gauge distance and trajectory, the chicken desperately flapping to gain altitude before the inevitable collision of claws skittering against helmet.

Speaking of chickens, there’s a strange relationship that exists here  between a man and his cock.  It’s not unusual to see a guy sitting on his stoop stroking a cockerel on his lap, the bird leaning into him, beak nestled under his chin and eyes closed in bliss.   It looks like love but soon that same cock will be fighting for his life with a 3 inch penknife blade attached to his leg.

They crow from 3am onwards, wantonly oblivious to time.   You learn to tune it out or invest in earplugs.

I love the painted peeps, baby chicks spray painted bright colours, for the children I’m told. It’s a rare peep that makes it to full adolescence without being pecked to death by the flock it’s forced to join.  Those that do look like aged punks, regular plumage with neon green Mohawks and wing tips which never seem to quite grow out.   I want one badly.    A purple one.

Ducks are bred for tourists being far too expensive for locals to eat. Many times I’ve seen a flock waddling down the street following the duck herder who has a special duck flag. He takes them to a recently harvested rice field, plants the flag and lets them loose to forage, they obediently remain in that paddy until he returns for them. I absolutely adore ducks and was pretty devastated when I saw a woman cruising down the road bearing several bunches of ducks hanging upside down with their feet bound together like duck bouquets, frantically lifting their heads to avoid the tarmac. More so when one made a break for it and dashed under my tires.

Then I thought  ‘sod it, I killed it so I’ll eat it’  but before I’d even put my kickstand down the guy behind me scooped it up without even stopping, poor little duck intestines hanging out of its bum.

To me that  stretch of road will always be ‘ Jalan duck splat’.

The  Bali dogs are something else. There are hundreds of them roaming the streets, usually solo.  You see them trotting along with great purpose, dogs on a mission with a ‘places to go, people to see’ attitude. They are also one of the major hazards of driving as they insist on lying in the middle of the road. If someone’s been kind enough to give a stray a rabies shot they get to wear a red collar or, more usual a red rag.  This raises their status to that of belonging.  They fairly strut with pride. There’s a dog called Blackie that everyone knows who bar hops from Mingle to Boom Boom Club to Laughing  Buddha  receiving  greetings and hugs from  Ubudniks and  food from the kitchens. His final port of call is CP Lounge for a snooze on the black leather couches. I spent the end of my 50th birthday passed out on said couch in a cuddle puddle with him. Someone groomed him recently and he’s all shiny and spiffed up,  he just needs  the Indo equivalent of Grecian 2000 on his muzzle, it would take years off him.  He even has his own Facebook page. Check it out ‘Blacky the Dog’.

It’s kite flying season right now, the sky is full  of colour and in the streets men and boys scoot around bearing kites so large it looks like there’s a huge eagle coming down the road toward you.

The dusk is falling  and the extraordinary sound of the Gayatri mantra pierces the night. My attention is caught by the sudden infestation of large flying ants followed by the bats that woosh around my head picking them off one by one, so very nearly grazing me with their wings.

If I’m lucky the tokay – a very large lizard with a booming baritone “ECK O” and  turds the size of a large house cats – will find a fuck buddy tonight and let me sleep.

The end of another day in Bali.

 

 

 

BURNING MAN STORIES PART 2

THE CULT OF ERIC  (dedicated to Eric’s everywhere)

Trenlin and I on our way to The Burn

When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed pets, my parents were actors and we traveled quite a bit, so it kind of made sense to me. It did however, create an insatiable desire in me to tame things and fondle them.

It started with a female squirrel, then a hedgehog – obviously no fondling there, did you know they scream?       It culminated with seven white doves that, within weeks, moved into the house. They slept with me and flew around shitting everywhere (I still have calcified bird poo in my lungs) and my father had a hell of a time getting rid of them. Eventually he sent them to Scotland after two previous attempts, the first being Trafalgar Square where, not only did they fly directly north to Golders Green, one even had the gall to take the number 13 bus.  Luring them back into the cardboard box the third time around was no picnic either.

All of these creatures I inexplicably named Eric.

Including the doves, they were a collective Eric, sort of  like The Borg.

Maybe it was a Monty Python  ‘Eric the half a bee’  thing, I really can’t say, but it all began with a hair…

This hair sprouted out of a mole on my arm and grew at a ridiculous rate.  I became quite attached. I named it Eric, I combed, curled and petted it to death until it fell out.

And so, the ‘Eric’ thing persisted until I found myself at Burning Man with the most delightful gang comprised of Quantas, Bad Doggie, Arfur and Bryn.

Bad Doggie had been gifted with the best toy, a very cute inflatable dog.  “How wonderful”  she beamed  “A Playa pup, no muss no fuss and no fucking feeding!” Later on she was tangoing somewhere and a guy picked him up off the bar and started playing with him.   “Unhand that dog!”    she boomed racing across the dance floor.  “Has it got a name?” he inquired trying to appease Doggie who was looking quite fierce. “Yes, his names Eric” I chimed in  “Everything is Eric!”  They looked at me askew.

Of course they demanded an explanation so I told them a few Eric stories.

One of my favorites being when I convinced Trenlin to come to Tesuque Village Market and look at a puppy a young Navaho boy was trying to get rid of. I left my reluctant friend holding the multicoloured bundle of edibleness at arms length with a scowl on her face. When I next had a peek outside she was cuddling him and I knew she was screwed.

Two weeks passed and she still hadn’t named him. I, meanwhile, had been silently Eric ing her.

‘Eric.    Eric.     His name’s Eric.   Call him Eric.’    So it was no surprise to me  that she caved under my psychic attack and announced “I have no idea why,  I don’t even like the name,   but I’m calling him Eric.”   I shut up and mentally did the happy dance.

I went on to tell them about a baby lemur and some Thai prostitutes (a tale I should probably shelve til we know each other better).

They loved the stories and, fueled by their laughter, I said I thought we should form  The Cult of Eric.

They’re a pretty silly bunch of people so we immediately set about coming up with the Eric salute. We finally settled on a call and response cheer spelling out the name thus:

E is for Ecstatic    (because, like most, we were on ecstasy)

R is for Ridiculous Behavior

I is for I Love You    (said with feeling)

C is for CUNT!     Followed by the aforementioned stomping and burping.

On the night of  ‘The Prom’ we had our destination in mind but as so often happens at Burning Man we got distracted by things worth being distracted by. I shall never forget…..  CAMP GLOM

A huge theme camp fronted by a really happening bar.  I said I’d get us some drinks and muscled my way through the crowd to cozy up to  the bar,  then I waited….    and waited.   The bartender patently ignored me.  During this I couldn’t help but notice the women handcuffed to the bar. They didn’t look happy about it,  they pulled and rattled their chains with annoyance.

When he finally deigned to glance my way he demanded a joke in return for a drink,  so I hit him with my best.  His response was to stare at me blankly and tell me that I wasn’t funny. I thought he was joking and said  “Give us a drink then”  he slapped down one of those little paper cups dentists ask you to swish with and poured a splash of water in glaring at me. I was gobsmacked, I’d NEVER  had anyone be so rude to me on the playa, I backed away from him to find my friends and tell them what happened. There was a group ‘fuck that shit’ and we walked outside to further explore the camp.

Right next door and set back a little we saw an old Airstream trailer covered in fairy lights, it looked inviting so we checked it out. The interior was entirely covered with bright red faux fur, floor, walls, everything, and it was the most gorgeous little unmanned  cocktail bar. While smooth jazz wafted we took turns marveling at the liqueurs on offer and helped ourselves to beautiful Venetian  glasses of Green Chantreuse, cognac and B&B while reclining on the red fur couches. Fortified we forced ourselves to leave this little slice of  heaven and ventured into the night feeling warm and fuzzy towards our hosts.

I happened to glance back and saw something we’d missed. “Oh my God, look!’ I pointed at the bamboo bridge that spanned the length of the Airstream and stood a good fifteen feet in the air. We ran back for a closer look at what was essentially one very thick bamboo for the walkway with thinner ones for handrails on either side and supporting struts.

I know what you’re thinking but after assorted drugs and a few too many you tend to get carried away. Before we could stop them Arfur and Doggie started making their way up.

What happened next would have been blindingly apparent to the  un addled. As they neared the middle of the bridge it started started swaying violently from side to side,  and worse, the handrail got further and further apart. Their hoots of pleasure became screams of fear as they they clung to each other and howled at us for help.  What the fuck could we do?

Aside from try not to laugh too loud and berate ourselves because  ‘friends don’t let friends climb bamboo bridges?’

They made it across by straddling the fucker, inching along,  thighs quivering with the effort and trying not to be flung into the void. When they dismounted they were swearing profusely and casting dire threats.

These guys were seriously twisted and it was clear there was more to Camp Glom than met the eye. We approached  The flogging station warily with our two friends lagging behind sporadically cursing like Tourette’s victims. The entrance seemed harmless enough flanked by two statuesque rather bored looking women, hog tied being gently whipped.

Beyond were various ‘spanky’ machines, like a chair that I sat in and pressed a button, this made a large hand smack me so viciously I wanted to forcefully dismantle it.

Close by we saw a group of people in hysterics, some on their knees and in the center was a guy wearing an orange jumpsuit and hardhat with a weird looking contraption strapped to his back. It had a long clear hose attachment which looped over his shoulder and as I watched a man stepped out of the circle pulled down his pants and assumed the position.  Jumpsuit dude positioned the hose right up against the guys asshole and with a flourish he pulled the lever. A ball of flame shot along it and presumably up the guys butt because he shot into the air. We all collapsed, tears of mirth rolling down our cheeks while we waited our turn.

It’s hard to describe what it felt like, that fiery ass shot…. Sure it was hot,  but it felt really good to have hot air blast up your anus.   A bit later Bad Doggie – whose camp is called the Church of  Behavioral Modification – strode up and demanded that he show her how to work it.   He raised his eyebrows and complied, she said  “Gimme that thing then bend over and spread ’em!”   He performed a slow striptease for us, licking his lips while shrugging out of his jumpsuit and proceeded to take two for the team.

While he was dressing I asked his name,  “Lucky Bastard”  he coyly replied.

The last treat in store was  THE ROASTER COASTER!  A U-shaped roller coaster operated by very large men who hoisted the people stupid enough to get in the capsule, up to the top of the U with the aid of thick ropes and pulleys. Once at the top they just let go and the capsule plunged earthward, spinning madly. THEN they shot at them with flamethrowers.   I guessed that was to take their minds off of vomiting copiously.

I had a grand time with The Cult of Eric and the really strange thing was that so many of the men I met that week were called… Eric!

A few days later I rode in the Critical Tits bike run (don’t ask) and when we returned to our trusty steeds Doggie had a flat tire. No problem I said flagging down an art car to take her and the bike to Bicycle Repair camp. When we got there the bloke working it was having a very nasty argument with his girlfriend and I got a serious case of A.D.D. while we waited. Just then I heard someone shouting  “ANIMAL CONTROL” through a megaphone.

Now I’d heard about them but I’d never actually seen them so without thinking I ran out of Center Camp to find their truck. Animal Control is a vehicle with a large cage that cruises the playa looking for humans wearing anything animal. Even if  it’s  bunny ears, they snatch you up and throw you in the cage which is where you remain until someone adopts you.    Funny right?

I chose a Brad Pitt lookalike in a really inventive monkey suit that had extra long arms. “Good choice” said Crash Almighty yanking out my monkey and we walked off arm in arm giggling.  His hometown was Taos, NM and when I asked his name it was, of course, Eric.

It was at that moment I realized I had absolutely no idea where I’d left my bike and backpack. What I mean by this is, I was drawing a complete blank about what I’d been doing and with whom before my Animal Control experience.

On reflection I’ve understood what a remarkable thing this was – to be so consumed in the moment that you totally lose the moment before – but at the time I thought I was going quite mad. While Eric chattered on I silently panicked, racking my brains ‘where had I been and who was I with?’  FUCK!

Eric saved me by asking where my bike was and it all came flooding back. I remember hugging and repeatedly thanking him as I dragged him to Bicycle Repair camp. This confused him  (as did me saying  “of course it is”  when he’d told me his name.

His next statement confused the fuck out of me.

“you know I think you’re really cute so I totally don’t care that you’re a guy”.

“WHAT?”   I squeaked    “Don’t be silly of course I’m not”

“It’s okay,  really   I don’t mind”

“No no”  I spluttered  “honestly I’m female!”

“No. You can’t be,   not with that voice”

“So I’m a woman with a low voice.”    “Look,   small hands,    no Adams apple?”

“Really it’s okay”  he repeated  “I don’t mind, I think you’re cute”.

Well that did it for me. No matter how hot this guy looked I found myself saying

“No Eric, it’s NOT okay because I’m telling you that I am indeed, a woman and you’re insisting that I’m not which is totally FUCKED… and…and…   I think I just lost my monkey!”

With that I ran from him as fast as my ridiculous footwear would allow to rejoin my cult and ponder on the many mysteries that day had brought.

BURNING MAN STORIES PART 1. (all true, I couldn’t make this shit up)

THE GREAT PLAYA HOAX

Image

There was much talk of a prom. It was listed in ‘What, Where, When?’ for Thursday night and rumours of limos and formal wear abounded. I found myself being dressed by the kind ladies of The Nile Room and for a smoothie they made me look like shit. It was quite funny really, I’m standing next to this firedancer I know who looks like an anorexic Courtney Love and she’s droning on about how many people she knows, she’s hangin’ with The Mutator and going to all the coolest parties blah blah. How silly, I nearly said. There are so many cool parties that theme camps have taken to making rubber stamps and covering my body with them so I might have a gnats ass of remembering where I’m going that night.

Courtney’s being decked out in a stunning strapless black velvet number that fans out into a black and white fishtail. She looks gorgeous. I am being wrapped in a torn pink wool snood and sewn together with silver lurex.

It does nothing for me and pink is not my colour.

Glancing away from my reflection in dismay, I see a group of children driving a wagon train of school desks trundle by and hitched a lift home to change.

I should stop here and explain that, as an English person, I’ve been deprived of proms and reunions. I mean to say, what’s with that? We’re a country laden with pomp and circumstance and we cling to the remains of our monarchy like a sinking ship, so I was eager for a prom.

I grabbed Bad Doggie and headed off to prom dress headquarters at The Lost Penguin to rectify things. Sitting in air-conditioned bliss I gorged myself on chocolate covered cherries and champagne and admired my corsage. Bad Doggie slithered into something slinky while I was foisted off with a pink lace bolero which I stuffed into my bike basket, where I think it still remains.

During the evening I saw many humans wandering about in tuxedos and gowns and I asked the single ones if they had a date. We set off that night, a tight knit group drenched in ‘day glo’ so we wouldn’t lose each other.

The penguins had said to go to Area 47 (which wasn’t listed) next to Space Virgins on the Esplanade. Stopping only for a fiery ass shot administered with a blow torch and hose attachment ( to be explained in Part 2 ) we were there in a flash.

Space Virgins was a huge Grecian temple all lit up, music pumping, people in prom wear pumping, so we danced. At some point I noticed that Flight To Mars was right next door and squeaking with excitement, I rounded up the gang. They were somewhat reluctant due to the extremely long line to get in, so I babbled on about past experiences ( “it’s a fun house, it’s a club, there’s a really tight vagina you crawl through with a talking clit” ) until they acquiesced.

It was, however, an eventful queue. Starting with the guy who wanted to leave the line. We refused to let him, did everything in our power to make him stay, culminating  with our ‘Cult Of Eric’ cheerleading routine which ends with the Eric salute – a forward stomp of the right foot while shielding your face from view and burping. His friend unimpressed yanked him out of line anyway and we fell to our knees as one, howling and clutching at his ankles. Next, a young girl who’d been mentally undressing Brynn and I with an addled look in her eye, lunged at us and there we were in a three way suck-face. She pulled back and whimpered, “Why?” “Because you can, because it’s okay, because it’s allowed!” She beamed at me and staggered off, happy at being granted permission to hump women’s legs like a rabid bunny.

Three priests came by in bouncy shoes offering communion wafers and wine on silver trays and then…we were there, the front of the line. I went in first, moving cautiously through a thick forest of dangly things and then I had to make a choice. I went left into a long room where everything looked normal and then got smaller and smaller. I wriggled through the tiny exit, a trap door came down and immediately I’d lost my peeps!! I couldn’t backtrack and I found myself in a dead-end place. Looking like a claustrophobic mime, I patted the walls and flew through a panel into a drum which revolved and spat me out into a hanging cloth maze. “HELP!” I barked, to no avail. Bad Doggies long gone. I hope the others had the sense to stick together because I am beyond lost.

I made my way through a pitch black material labyrinth, rubbing against the bodies of other lost souls and started to giggle. Everyone I encountered was either looking for their friends,or the way out. Eventually I leaned against a wall and I was back on the street. What a shock! I tried to go back through, but of course I couldn’t. I rushed to the front of the line, to the guy blocking my way. “I’ve lost my peeps and it won’t let me back in and you’ve got to let me in!” It came gushing out as one word and he laughed at me. “Yeah, yeah – that’s what they all say.” Most unhelpful, I tried again. “No, you don’t understand. My friends, they’re in there and I’m out here, that’s a very long line, pretty please let me in?”

He tells me that a couple lost each other for four hours yesterday and to get back in line. I pouted and began to shuffle away when I saw a small, cloud shaped window covered in netting, previously unnoticed. Beyond the netting, a closet-sized room stuffed full of coloured balls like a Mickey D’s playroom.

The first thing I saw was a girl curled into a ball quietly crying, then panic stricken people shouting “you’re on my foot!’ or “my legs gone to sleep, fuck!” On closer inspection I realized that the only way out was to dive down INTO the balls and find the mouth of a tunnel that others were trying to come through the wrong way. Oh my God! Those poor people, all of them cast adrift, on different drugs and no one can relate.Everyone’s lost the pals they came with and some have just given up. Who knows how long they’ve been there and why doesn’t someone just kick through the netting? I know I would.

It is then that I happen to look up and see that under the sign ‘Flight to Mars’ there is another that reads ‘Area 47 Welcome to The Prom’. It dawns on me as I listen to the wailing voices calling out to each other from inside, that there is no prom. It’s all a diabolical hoax. A fun house that purposely separates you from your friends, it’s awful but I love it!!

Armed with this knowledge, I plunged back into the fray. Through a revolving door that sends me one way and the next person another way. cackling wildly I scaled the camo netting in my platform wedgies without killing myself and finally saw my friends amidst a clump of folks edging towards the dreaded balls. “Don’t move!” I bellowed “I’m coming to get you” and ran smack into some bloke who took my arm and started trying to guide me. I saw his game and shook him off. Now there was only a fireman’s pole between us and with an exultant whoop I slid down and we were reunited!

Once outside we lingered awhile to watch peoples reactions as they exited. Some ran up to the queue shouting “don’t do it, they’re evil bastards!” Others, like myself, came out shrieking with laughter.

We strolled off arm in arm toward Thunderdome to watch people on bungees beat the shit out of each other and I vowed to find those naughty penguins tomorrow and spank their flightless bottoms!